Columbia has removed history professor William V. Harris from teaching, advising, and other student-related responsibilities following an accusation that Harris sexually harassed a student and retaliated against reports of that harassment..
Earlier this month, a 29-year-old Ph.D. student alleged that the 79-year-old history professor, who has been at Columbia since 1965, repeatedly kissed and groped her without consent beginning in 2012. The student has sued Columbia under the name Jane Doe for allegedly failing to act on her complaints of Harris’ harassment.
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences David Madigan and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Carlos Alonso announced the decision to pull Harris from student-related responsibilities in an email to graduate students and faculty within the history department.
“We share this information more broadly with you to clarify what has been a subject of considerable discussion and concern,” the email reads. “We also want to take this opportunity to reiterate that Columbia must be a place where students and scholars are able to purse (sic) their academic work free from worry about harassment of any sort. … The well-being of every member of the Columbia University community remains our very highest priority.”
Columbia does not comment on personnel matters, according to a University spokesperson, who added that the University is “committed to fostering an environment that is free from gender-based discrimination and harassment.”
David Sanford, counsel for Jane Doe, believes the decision to remove Harris from teaching lends credence to the plaintiff’s claims.
“This is a vindication of Jane Doe’s allegations,” Sanford said. “We are glad that Columbia University did the right thing, yes. But we’re disappointed that it took them this long to act.”
Sanford also claimed that his office has gathered allegations of sexual harassment by Harris from students, faculty, and staff that date back decades.
Harris’ courses, including undergraduate lectures Environmental History of the Ancient Mediterranean and Roman Social History, will be taught by replacements for the remainder of the term.
A Barnard College history major, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, told Spectator that she was enrolled in Harris’ Environmental History of the Ancient Mediterranean course but dropped it last month when she learned of the Jane Doe lawsuit.
“Just knowing that and having that information at the back of my head made me very uncomfortable in seminar and lecture. I thought it would hinder my performance,” she said. “I know they’re only accusations, but I didn’t feel like I was in a safe space.”
Harris remains an employee of the University.